As part of his first trip to the Boston area as head coach of the Breakers, Matt Beard sat and watched the city’s flagship team, the New England Patriots, take on the New York Giants. If you forgot the ending, or if you don’t watch football, the Patriots won the game on a long field goal by Stephen Gostkowski in the waning seconds. The ending was not lost on Beard as he prepares to take over the only NWSL club to play all three seasons without a trip to the playoffs.
“He was sitting on that bench for nearly two minutes knowing that hopefully he was going to be deciding the game because they were looking to get up the pitch to get him into a field goal position,” Beard said. “Psychologically, mentally, how strong was he, not knowing where he was going to have to kick it from?”
Beard, 37, may not have the American football jargon down just yet, but it is something beyond the lingo that the former Liverpool Ladies boss will be trying to emulate the Patriots. In short, the team has a much better chance at success if the players are prepared for every potential game situation.
“As a group we’re going to do a lot of work on the training pitch and do a lot of work with video in the classroom,” he said. “We’ll talk a lot about strategy. What happens if we go down to 10 players? Little things like that. We’ll try to make sure that we cover all angles with regards to scenarios and what happens in the game. It’s things like that we will try to install into the players. If you concede late there is still time to score a goal.”
Turning the comparisons to soccer, Beard will be trying to do for the Breakers what he did for Liverpool in the FAWSL. After arriving midway through the 2012 season, he overhauled the roster and the mentality, and in one season Liverpool made the leap from last place to league champion. Then they won the league again the next season. No club makes that correction without better players, but there must also be a change in mentality into a winning group.
“We just want to create the right environment for the players,” Beard said. “What I mean by that is to create a learning environment. The approach I have is I’m quite an open coach with regards to the players and communication. I feel that’s really important especially in female teams. Just to make sure that as a group from top to bottom, that we’re together as a club.”
So far, Beard has chosen to stay away from commenting on individual players, but he and the team have not stayed away from making adjustments to the roster. The Breakers shipped the No. 2 pick in the draft to Portland for a pair of veteran midfielders, McCall Zerboni and Sinead Farrelly. And they sent two lesser picks to Washington for another midfielder, Angela Salem.
“Sinead can play numerous positions, which is an advantage to any coach,” Beard said. “Technically she’s a good player, a good passer of the ball. And of course McCall is my type of player because she gets back on the pitch and she’s aggressive in the tackle. I felt in the midfield we needed a bit more skill and a bit more experience in there.”
Farrelly, Zerboni, and Salem should help batten down the hatches in midfield for a club that conceded nearly a half-goal per game more than the next leakiest team in 2015. But the defensive overhaul did not end there. In a move that drew mixed reviews from Breakers fans, 2014 Goalkeeper of the Year Alyssa Naeher was traded to the Red Stars for Whitney Engen. The Breakers then replaced Naeher with Libby Stout. Engen and Stout both played for Beard at Liverpool, meaning they will arrive in Boston with immediate familiarity with their coach and each other. (Writer’s note: Equalizer spoke to Matt Beard prior to the Engen trade being made.)
The Breakers have also re-signed Kristie Mewis after she was de-allocated by U.S. Soccer, and forward Stephanie McCaffrey’s rookie season concluded by being called into the national team and netting her first international goal. The team announced McCaffrey’s re-signing on Monday.
“We’ve got some good players here,” Beard said of the existing roster.
And for a Breakers team which finished last in 2015, the hope is that improvement is on the way.
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